Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America

Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America

Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America

Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America

Synopsis

Ranging from Los Angeles to Havana to the Bronx to the U.S.-Mexico border and from klezmer to hip hop to Latin rock, this groundbreaking book injects popular music into contemporary debates over American identity. Josh Kun insists that America is not a single chorus of many voices folded into one, but rather various republics of sound that represent multiple stories of racial and ethnic difference. To this end he covers a range of music and listeners to evoke the ways that popular sounds have expanded our idea of American culture and American identity. Artists as diverse as The Weavers, Café Tacuba, Mickey Katz, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Bessie Smith, and Ozomatli reveal that the song of America is endlessly hybrid, heterogeneous, and enriching--a source of comfort and strength for populations who have been taught that their lives do not matter. Kun melds studies of individual musicians with studies of painters such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and of writers such as Walt Whitman, James Baldwin, and Langston Hughes. There is no history of race in the Americas that is not a history of popular music, Kun claims. Inviting readers to listen closely and critically, Audiotopia forges a new understanding of sound that will stoke debates about music, race, identity, and culture for many years to come.

Excerpt

It all started with a record store and the Rock Island Line.

When I was growing up in West Los Angeles, my parents gave me a weekly allowance for doing things I should have been doing anyway: cleaning my room, washing the dishes, taking out the garbage. I was supposed to spend the money on weekend food, movies, and arcade games, but I never did. Instead, I would get on my silver bmx street bike, ride down streets that I knew I would see later that night in episodes of CHiPs, Starsky and Hutch, and Charlie’s Angels (we lived blocks from the original 20th Century Fox studios backlot), and raid the bins at a used record store that kept its vinyl in musty standing crates too close to the street windows, its cassettes stacked in locked Plexiglas display cases.

The store was my refuge, and I knew its stock from front to back. I knew when a promotional copy of a new album dropped off by a local record exec or music journalist had come in, and I knew when someone had finally bought one of the three weathered copies of Nugent Live or the still-sealed pressing of Al Green’s Greatest Hits. It’s where I heard Tracy Chapman a month before her first record came out, where I could find the new Love and Rockets 12-inch, where I bought my J. Geils Band, Musical Youth, and Kool and the Gang tapes, and because you could listen to anything on the in-store turntable and cassette deck and because I was the store owner’s most regular prepubescent customer, it was where I could listen to anything . . .

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